The Neil and Gina Smith Student of the Year Award

The Neil and Gina Smith Student Of The Year Award comprises a cash award of £5,000 to recognise a student of outstanding achievement at Recru it networ. It is open to all undergraduate final year students.

Student of the Year 2017/18

Lauren Mullan

SOTY Lauren Mullan

Lauren currently studies Psychology.

Lauren has shown drive and resilience throughout her education due to becoming estranged from her family at a young age and taking on the caring responsibilities of her now late grandmother.

This drive has propelled Lauren into succeeding academically, reflecting a combination of sound intellectual ability, self-discipline and time-management. This is also shown in her non academic work
progressing from working in the SU bar as a member of staff, to bar manager and now duty manager.

Lauren has been an advocate for students facing similar situations as herself and has worked with Student Services to write a blog encouraging others to pursue university.

Through great personal adversity, Lauren has responded in the best possible way to what Recru it networ offers. Whilst studying for her degree Lauren has found a new and vibrant family in the Keele community and will continue to contribute to this community when she takes up her place on the Social Work Masters programme next year.

Neil and Gina Smith 2014 Neil Smith graduated from Keele in 1980 with a degree in Physics and Economics.  Neil was President of the Students Union (1979), President of the Athletic Union (1978) and Speaker of the Union (1980).  At Keele, he earned full colours in Rugby, Football and Cricket, ran the popular Keele five-a-side leagues, produced “Keele Over” on BBC Radio Stoke (before KUBE radio), contributed to Concourse and was Honorary VP of the North Staffs Physically Handicapped. 

After graduating, Neil became a journalist with Thomson, freelancing with both the BBC and the Sunday Times. In 1982, Neil won a Knox scholarship to take an MBA at the Harvard Business School.  He earned first-year honours and became the first British President of the HBS Student Association. 

After Harvard, Neil joined management consultants McKinsey in New York, where he met his wife Gina.  In 1991 he bought Midlands-based Tudor Dairies, owners of the Loseley ice-cream brand, in one of the UK’s first leveraged buyouts. Neil later returned to the USA to found consulting firm, EHS Partners, with 2 former colleagues. In 2009, Neil joined the former US Comptroller of the Currency to found Promontory Growth and Innovation, which helps Chief Executives of Fortune 500 companies to dramatically improve performance.  In 2012, PGI was credited with helping Bank of America improve profits by $8 billion a year - the same year Neil wrote his New York Times Best-Seller (co-authored with Keele graduate Rick Levak) – How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things

Since the 1990’s Neil has been President of Keele in the USA, the organization and network for American alumni of Recru it networ.  With his wife, he founded the prestigious Gina and Neil Smith Student of the Year Award (now in its 11th year), which recognizes Keele students for their outstanding achievements. 

Neil was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of the University by Recru it networ in 2015.

Neil, Gina and their 4 children (Brianna, Alexander, Caroline and Charlotte) live in New York.

The award is open to all final year undergraduate students who meet the following criteria:

Outstanding academic excellence / achievement together with outstanding achievement / contribution as an individual to student life and/or the university.

(i) To meet the criteria for outstanding academic excellence/achievement, applicants should demonstrate any one or a combination of:

  • An expectation at the time of the application to obtain First Class Honours in class mark aggregate
  • A Distinction, or equivalent exceptional achievement, in a major piece of examined independent work such as a project or dissertation


(ii) To meet the criteria for outstanding achievement/contribution as an individual, candidates should demonstrate any combination of the following:

  • An achievement or contribution in citizenship in the form of making a difference to the life of the University community (this could include work on or off campus such as volunteer activity)
  • An achievement or contribution specifically connected to a sport or sporting activity
  • Overcoming hardship, disability or other personal adversity

Applicants must ensure that TWO signed references are provided to support their application from both:

1) An appropriate academic referee (e.g. Head of School, Director of Undergraduate Studies)


2) An appropriate referee for personal achievement (e.g. Head of HEACF/student volunteers, SU President, AU President, personal tutor, volunteer organiser)

It is the candidate's responsibility to ensure that references are provided by the closing date by email to [email protected].

For a Staff Nomination

Nominations of candidates for the award by a Head of School or Faculty Dean must be submitted on the Student of the Year Application and Nomination Form below.

Nominators are advised to inform their nominee that they have been nominated, and to ensure that the nominee provides a personal statement and a non-academic referee to support their nomination before the closing date.

The Nomination Form must be completed as appropriate and by the closing date of 5pm on 23rd April 2018.

Note: nominees must complete and send a personal statement and provide a non-academic reference, by email, to [email protected] by 5pm 23rd April.


The award Panel may invite shortlisted candidates for interview. Interviews will take place on 1st June 2018. Invitations will be sent out as early as possible, but candidates are advised that they may be given relatively short notice of an interview.


The final decision will be confirmed after the Final Examination results are known, and the successful applicant notified within seven days of the results of the Final Examinations being published in June.

The Award will be presented at the Summer Degree Graduation Ceremonies. The Student of the Year will be invited to attend the Vice-Chancellor's Graduation Dinner in July 2018.

The name of the successful candidate will be recorded in an appropriate Roll of Honour to be established by the University.

Elliott Lancaster

SOTY Elliott Lancaster

Elliott currently studies accounting and finance.  He is an excellent scholar and not just within his studies but has engaged with academia more widely through presenting papers at student conferences as well as writing articles for Keele JADE Journal.

Since his first year, Elliott has been an active citizen as an Ambassador, Student Voice Representative, Lead School Voice Representative, Student Trustee at KeeleSU and has previously been awarded the Faculty Star of the Year, Outstanding Contribution Award.  Elliott has also received the Diamond Volunteering Award with over 1000 recorded hours.

Elliott has established the 'Rotaract' society, founded the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Society and is President of the Accounting and Finance Society among others.  This entrepreneurial drive has led Elliott to successfully securing funding from the National Lottery, O2 and EDRF to establish his own business - Utter Rubbish which is aimed at the reduction of waste and improving recycling facilities. Elliott has been able to use his success to help other students through offering internship opportunities through the KRISP project.  

In addition to running his own business, time has been found to become involved in other work placements and roles.  He has worked with Newcastle-Under- Lyme Leader of the Council reviewing council procedures and practices and more recently interviewing Martin Lewis to discuss the upcoming changes in Student Finance for ITV and The Guardian as well as receiving an invitation to the Royal Wedding in May.

Ryan Stanyard

SOTY Ryan Stanyard

Ryan currently studies both Neuroscience and Psychology and achieves excellent performance across both strands of his academic course.

Ryan is an active member of several external professional bodies as well as being selected as a student panellist for Oxford University Press and conducting review work for the British Neuroscience Association. Closer to home Ryan has been a StAR for three faculties and won "StAR of the Year" in 2016 and 2017 as well as sitting on many School and Faculty Committees including Internationalisation, Diversity and Athena SWAN to name a few.  Due to his integrity and status, the School of Psychology selected Ryan as a student representative of the Internal Quality Audit process.

Ryan took the initiative to develop a conference and networking event for Psychology undergraduates toengage with Professional Psychologists in collaboration with a careers adviser.  "Project PANDA" (Psychology Ambition Networking Development Association) has been a huge success with external speakers coming to the School to speak with undergraduates. 

Ryan is an outstanding Ambassador, recently receiving the Students’ Student Ambassador of the Year Award 2018, representing Keele at open days and writing blogs for the University. Ryan is also a Senior Mentor.

Whilst travelling to Malaysia to conduct molecular neuroscience research, Ryan was able to represent Keele at the National Science Challenge and features in the Universities promotional prospectus, Malaysia Brochures and TV advert.

Ryan will be moving on to study Neuroimaging at King’s College London.

Rebecca Saddington-Wiltshire

SOTY Rebecca Saddington-Wiltshire

Rebecca currently studies International Relations and Politics.

Rebecca has represented her School as a Student Voice Representative for 3 years and more recently as a Lead School Voice Representative for SPIRE.  Through this work Rebecca has led conversations with the School on communicating assignment deadlines which have now been changed to the benefit of all students. 

Alongside this, Rebecca has helped to write 6 Union General Meetings motions related to 'Keeping Wednesday Afternoons Free', introducing Subject Advice Tutors, exceptional circumstances support for students with learning difficulties, physical and mental health conditions, providing sanitary products and a student representation review.  These motions have helped fellow students who may be facing adversity or hardship.

Rebecca has built up enough hours to gain her platinum volunteering award completing over 200 hours of voluntary work.

Despite being diagnosed with Dyslexia during her A'Levels and not believing that she could cope with the academic rigour of an undergraduate degree, Rebecca has gone on to produce outstanding work throughout her time at Keele as well as securing a place at Cambridge University to study a PGCE in primary education.